In an earlier paper (which you can read here), we discussed the differences between the generations in terms of motivation and expectations of the workplace. Tied to these differences is one that many overlook: learning style. Informal or transformational learning has been slowly brought to the work place by Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s, who, having grown up with huge leaps in technology, were looking for a learning style that kept up with the flow of information they were accustomed to. While traditional or formal training allows employees to learn the base skills, transformational learning allows emerging leaders to fill the gaps in their knowledge and excel. By providing opportunities for employees to collaborate and learn through experience, organizations have seen increases in employee satisfaction, retention rates, and, in some cases, their bottom line. In this paper, we will first look at differences between the styles, the evolution of organizational training, and finally how organizations can increase transformational learning.
From a very young age, most are taught using informational learning. Traditional education is based on this style, where there is a one-way stream of information coming from an authority figure (teacher or boss) and the audience (class or staff) is expected to memorize and regurgitate the information. This style has a limited retention rate (unless the information is used frequently) and limits autonomy and creativity. However, there are certainly times where this is necessary, such as safety training or manufacturing processes.
For Boomers, this is the style of learning they are accustomed to. The majority of their education and training were delivered in this style and this process-driven style matches the hierarchal workplace where they got their experience., Employees were “not paid to think” so training was limited to only the skills required for the job. If there was a problem, you would check with your colleagues on either side of you and if neither had a solution, you would have to go to the manager.
This mentality started to shift when Gen-X’s entered the workforce. Gen-X’s wanted more freedom in decision making and started asking for additional training, collaboration, and a flattening corporate structure. To address this, companies starting to focus on breakout sessions and an emphasis on team building. This was the beginning of organizations integrating transformational or social learning into training, which allows individuals to figure out solutions on their own. While it is a slower way of learning, it increases creativity, empowerment, and problem solving. They recognized that involvement and discussion lead to greater employee satisfaction and retention rate.
Gen-X’s influenced the education system. In kindergarten students are given “free play”, which gives them a choice of activities to choose from, each with a learning objective. High schools are starting to look at “flipped classrooms”, where the teacher is a coach and students work in small groups to solve problems (read about one teachers experience here). The result of this is that Gen-Y’s grew up being accustomed to collaborating and team work. This was enhanced as advances in technology and the creation of social media allowed Gen-Y’s to become accustomed to a non-stop flow of information and almost constant communication with others. When they entered the workforce, they brought their drive to learn, create, and collaborate with them. They wanted to figure things out with others, have a flat organizational structure, and have a coach or mentor, not a boss. Emerging leaders want the opportunities to apply their knowledge, working in a team to take risks. e-Learning provided the constant flow of learning, but in many cases it lacked the break-out sessions and team discussion that Gen-Y’s wanted.
Companies That Got It
Some companies fully embraced this attitude, giving employees the opportunity to be creative & explore their passions, which not only motivates staff and keeps emerging leaders engaged, but can also have direct impact on the bottom line. For example, the trailblazer in implementing this type of policy was 3M. They have had a “15% Culture” since 1948, which allowed employees to spend 15% of their time on their own projects. In 1974, 3M scientist Art Fry created the Post-It Note during his 15%. Learn more about 3M’s program here.
Google allows employees full access to their entire database of code and encourages them to spend up to 20% of their time on projects that interest them. This has led to several Google products, including Gmail, Orkut, Google Earth and Google Labs to name a few. Not every company can accomplish this. Some are unable to let go and allow their employees that freedom while others cannot afford to give employees that much R&D time (3M spends over $1 Billion on R&D annually). Luckily, the are several ways to increase the transformational learning in your organization.
Ways to Encourage Social Learning
Using shared storage or access to a shared blog or Wiki provides employees with the opportunity to learn at their own pace and increases discussion around the material. This is a great method for explaining how a product was developed or highlighting new features of a program. Using an app like Google Docs or Adobe Contribute allows teams to work together on documents, allowing everyone to have ownership of the final product. YouTube has become the instructional tool for many, especially the tech-savvy Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s. Companies can take a similar approach, using either a company channel on YouTube or Vimeo or using Adobe Captivate.
Interactive games, whether they be education based or purely for fun, can develop trust and form stronger teams. Educational computer games for children are not a new idea and companies like Game Learn have brought it to the adult level. Companies including American Airlines, Enegizer, Kellogg’s and Pfizer, to name a few, have started to use games as part of their negotiation training.
Gen-Y’s are looking for leaders who are transparent and are a mentor or coach. One way to accomplish this is to have update meetings where the performance of not just the team but the company is discussed. By being open to suggestions and trusting in the team, a leader will find that his emerging leaders are motivated and may even come up with solutions or new initiatives. To learn more about leadership styles, competencies, and what a bad leader looks like, check out SmartLEADER.
Effective communication is at the root of education and it definitely applies in social learning. A team needs to be able to challenge each other while still feeling comfortable enough to take risks and throw out ideas. All it takes is one overbearing personality or communication style and the collaboration is lost. SmartMANAGER discusses the techniques and rules to effective communication and, if rolled out to the entire team, provides a common language that promotes team work, trust, and creativity.
While transformational learning is desired by Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s, organizations need to recognize that not all Boomers or even Gen-X’s will be comfortable or successful with this approach.Some individuals do not feel the need to explore beyond their role, some to the point of resisting opportunities. There will always be a need for formal training and options to learn in this manner should always be available (educational support has become a common benefit option). However, if you want an organization that not only retains but attracts emerging leaders, having transformational learning as part of your culture is a must.